Now I am 31

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Clockwise from top left: Myrtle Snow figure from my sister; Angelina cake from Julien Plumart; my Erstwilder fox brooch; an interestingly eyed salt shaker I spotted at the museum tearoom

Yesterday I turned 31. I had a lovely day (and also developed a raging urge to collect Erstwilder brooches.) My parents were down for a visit and so I was free to go for lunch and do a bit of shopping while they tired out D. I asked Benn for running shoes, which now PROVES I am a grownup. I mean, at least I didn’t ask for a food processor- although I’m on the verge.

I’ve never really been bothered about my age and I think that will continue. I wouldn’t be 17 again if you paid me! I see a new birthday as a new year, a bit like January 1st or the start of a new school year. It’s a good time to take stock, to think about what I want out of the coming year. Deep.

Anyway, so: now I am 31 and it feels like a good age. I’m still super busy at work, but I’m coping. I’ve been off medication for over a month. It’s a good place to start.

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The importance of being alone

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I like being on my own, something which is a rare luxury in a 24/7 society and with a two-year-old in tow. I like having my own space and doing whatever I want without worrying about someone else. My current favourite daydream is to have a plush hotel suite in a big city, a huge stack of books, enough money to do whatever I want and at least three museums within walking distance. I’d do all this by myself for a couple of days before returning home. It’s selfish, yes, but that’s the point of a daydream, isn’t it?

The thing is, with the rise of lifestyle blogs (of which this is probably one, albeit a grannyfied one that only interests you if you like not leaving the house very often) and the thing that glossy magazines insist on labelling as ‘fear of missing out’ or ‘FOMO’, we’re all in a constant state of being busy or wanting to be seen to be busy, documenting everything for our followers. I’m as guilty of that as anyone. But I love, relish and appreciate being utterly alone.

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When I first left uni, I lived on my own for six months and never really appreciated the space it gave me. I do, however, have fond memories of lying in bed on Sundays, reading magazines and not caring if I got crumbs everywhere. The quiet of my own place- essentially a tiny room in a huge converted Gothic mansion in Leeds- when contrasted with the hellish noise of shared student accommodation was wonderful.

Now I’m more likely to relish having D in bed, Benn out somewhere and a House marathon on Netflix, but the effect is the same. It’s even better if it’s a weekend or the holidays. The not having to be somewhere, or having to force myself to interact with people is blissful.

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Of course, there’s a world of difference between being alone and being lonely. I’m very rarely alone and can choose not to be if I want. An important part of keeping my depression at bay is to make sure I see people on a regular basis and I’m lucky enough to have friends nearby (also: Twitter.) I know that some people don’t have that luxury and, at certain times in my life, it’s felt like I didn’t have that either. Hopefully this means that I appreciate my friends all the more.

Being alone is good for the soul, I think. It gives us time to think, to be selfish in a self-contained way and to process things without interruption (even if that is episode 4, season 3 of House.) If we don’t allow ourselves to have proper, unstructured time alone, we’re going to go mad.

This Girl Can- and so can you.

I am rubbish at sport. I hated it in school, but now I’m older I try, I’m keen- at the moment I manage to get out for a run once a week and I do yoga 3-4 times a week (still plodding with that), but I’m not ‘sporty’. I’ve been told before that I’m ‘not built for running’. I’ve had catcalls and insults thrown at me while I run. In short, it’s easy to lose hope and confidence in my ability to exercise.

That’s where This Girl Can comes in.

The campaign came about after a study by Sport England found that women were more likely to be inactive than men, but that most would like be more active. One of the main things holding them back was self-consciousness about being judged.

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To anyone thinking about starting running or another form of exercise, let me encourage you. I’m a size 16, I’m a slow runner and a hopeless yogi, but I like how I feel once I’ve done something. Once the weather gets better, I’ll do more, even if it does mean I’ll get sweaty and go the colour of a strawberry/tomato hybrid.

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It’s better that I do something- I feel better mentally as well as physically after a run, even if I spend a lot of the run feeling like I’d quite like to die (this happens quite a lot. I’m not Paula Radcliffe.) There’s a sense of achievement. I’ll keep going. I’m even looking into getting new trainers.

Also, I’d like to highlight a list on BuzzFeed- proof that yogis come in all shapes and sizes. I found it really inspiring.

What I want to say is- if I can do it, anyone can.

So, I think I’ve made the most perfect winter hat ever

I love hats. I love grey. I love cold winter weather and the fact that I have to wear hats most days (as my hair grooming is minimal, hat hair is actually a useful frizz tamer in my case. Seriously.) Anyway, for many years, my go-to hat has been a version of Ysolda’s Snapdragon Tam I knitted at least five years ago. I remember knitting it in a camel/merino blend that was lovely and warm and the pattern was the first complex design I attempted. I loved that hat.

However, it was getting old and I couldn’t find it after the move anyway. The winter of 2014-15 required a new hat. I set about searching Ravelry for a new hat that I could knit in grey (it is my favourite colour for knitwear, after all.) I found and fell in love with the unisex Dustland hat by Stephen West/Westknits.

How it should look. Image: Stephen West/www.westknits.com

How it should look.
Image: Stephen West/www.westknits.com

I eagerly bought the pattern and the yarn- I chose Drops Merino Extra Fine in Light Grey mix. I bought two balls and used one and a half when making the small size.

I LOVED this pattern. It’s simple, but with enough stitch variation in the construction- knit and purl used to make interesting patterns that WOULD NOT BE PHOTOGRAPHED BY ME FOR LOVE NOR BLOODY MONEY- that I stayed interested. I love the style too; it’s a slouchy, relaxed hat that can have the addition of a button to tack down the extra fabric if need be, but I chose not to add this, as I liked the style as it was. It’s a smart, yet comfy and sloppy-in-a-good-way hat that I think I will be wearing for years to come. You have to make it.

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This was the best photo I could take of me wearing the hat, but at least it’s proof I finished it! Anyway, knit it. Even if you’ve not knit much before, you should be OK with this. Trust me, I’m a knitter.

Preparing to host Christmas for the first time EVER (no pressure then, eh?)

When we moved into this house, I knew it’d be a great place to celebrate Christmas.

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So preparation started early- Benn and I have become those people who clear out Paperchase three days after Christmas- we got about £30 worth of wrapping paper, cards and accoutrements for about £10 two years ago. They’ve just run out, so we’ll be back this year I reckon.

I also knew I wanted a real Christmas tree (the agreement is that we have a real one for the years we’re at home for Christmas, the artificial one we bought from Woolworths yonks ago on the years we go to my parents’ house.) I decided to save £2 coins up over the year- by the time we went to buy our tree last week, I had £50 and didn’t even spend all of it.

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Next, the meal. For the actual day itself, we will have Benn’s parents, my aunt and one of my oldest friends to lunch. At first, we were thinking about going out for lunch itself- but then I realised we could order a set menu type thing from Marks and Spencers for £100 to feed six- it has a turkey, all the trimmings, a chocolate cake Christmas tree and a cheese board. So I asked everybody for £20 (waaaaay cheaper than a pub menu) and to bring a small thing with them on the day- mince pies, crackers, etc. With the extra money I’ll have, I’m going to buy extra bits like a Christmas pudding and, on Benn’s dad’s request, a cheesecake (apparently it’s not Christmas without a cheesecake…)

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For the day itself, I’ve dug out my Elf and Muppets Christmas Carol and I’ve asked around and borrowed some board games- although the consensus is we’ll avoid Monopoly. And Twister.

So other than all that, what else is left to do? Well, I’m wrapping presents in shifts because a) I’m not very good at it and b) I can’t do it for too long without getting bored. I’m debating not wrapping D’s main present (a wooden garage we got half price by buying it in October. #Thrifty.) Instead I’m thinking of setting it up and having it ready to play with on Christmas morning.

I have no idea what Ill feed people with on Christmas Eve and I haven’t thought about what people will drink. Endless tea? Who knows.

It’ll be fine, right? I mean, I’ve never cooked a full roast dinner, but eh, why not go adventurous on the biggest meal of the social calendar? I’m hoping those M&S fairies stretch to having everything ready to shove into the oven. Michel Roux Jr I am not.

Keep your fingers crossed it all works!

It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas…

I love Christmas. I especially love it at the moment because D is find the whole thing equal parts interesting and bewildering (I’ll refrain from saying ‘magical’. He thinks the Universal logo at the start of a film is ‘beautiful’. The kid has no concept of magic.) Unfortunately, he also has a penchant for helping himself to decorations off the tree, so my beautiful Nordman Fir is frequently denuded and its carefully placed* baubles are now all over the place. Between the toddler and the cat- who likes to see if it’s possible to climb up the tree without me noticing- my poor tree looks like it was decorated by aliens with no concept of taste.

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Christmas has also coincided with the onset of the Terrible Twos, which have come about WITH FORCE. Hooray.

I used the garden to good effect the other day, by gathering some evergreen plants we have. One of the main plants is a huge holly tree that has lots of foliage and berries. I also figured that by taking some of the bottom of the tree, I was saving the birds from Bronte’s inept ‘hunting’ efforts. I also included a little ivy, some twigs from an old Christmas tree at the bottom of the garden and some rosemary (we have at least two good-sized bushes.)

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I tied the whole shebang together with some cheap cinnamon sticks (50p for two at the local spice shop- it’s there for looks, rather than smell, as it doesn’t smell much at all) and some glittery red ribbon which I picked up from Tiger for £1. My friends and family are actually asking me to make up there own bunches of evergreens, so I think a new Christmas tradition has been born. It was also really nice stepping out into the garden for the first time in weeks, although I did feel a little overwhelmed at how much I want to do out there- but that’s another post for another time…

I’ve also done a little Christmas knitting, but decided to limit myself to one present, as I left it too late to co-ordinate myself efficiently. So I’m making a pair of Fallberry mitts in Drops Alpaca for a friend- lovely pattern and lovely yarn! I’ve knitted this pattern before, so I know it’s a quick(ish) knit that looks lovely.

Image: Knitty

Image: Knitty

How are you preparing for Christmas? On Wednesday, I’m going to post about how I’m getting organised for hosting Christmas this year… Leave any tips in the comments!

The kindness of strangers

On Saturday, an elderly woman collapsed outside my house. Benn came in and told me; I put on my sandals and went to her. At the same time, a lady with a little girl also came up to her, calling an ambulance.

I froze- I couldn’t remember what to do. So I tried to help in a way I could. I stroked the lady’s hair and calmed her. She was sort of fitting and trying to maintain consciousness. The other lady and I did as we were instructed by 999 and put her in the recovery position. All the time, I kept trying to talk and calm the lady. It was very scary, she had a serious head wound and was losing consciousness. I stayed with her until the ambulance came and I cleaned the pavement of her blood after she’d left (the paramedics asked me to. It also sort of felt respectful, if that makes sense?) Thankfully, the lady is comfortable in hospital and doing well.

What impressed me was how the people around the situation sprung into action- one man ran to the lady’s house to inform her family (we found her address in her bag); a couple looked after the little girl who was beside herself with shock; a bus driver stopped her bus and directed traffic around the ambulances- two turned up- to allow the emergency services to do their job. The paramedics were AMAZING. I have no idea how they remain so calm at such difficult times. The lady who had been on the phone visited the lady’s family to see how she was doing.

All of these people gave up their time to help someone in need. They could have walked past, or crossed the road, or avoided the area. Instead, they stayed for up to an hour to help.

We’re now into the season of goodwill and it’s made me think- how can we demonstrate this in small ways? What random acts of kindness can I do to brighten someone else’s day? How can I help my friends and family? We get so wrapped up in Black Friday and presents and stuff, but how often do we do something selflessly for others?

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Also- I really, really need to refresh my first aid skills. So I’ve added a resolution to my list for 2015.

 

Maintaining something like a work/life balance…

The other day, I had a five lesson day, with lunch duty and an after school revision session for mocks. Then I got home, put D to bed and had my tea. Then I worked on two hours’ worth of marking, had a bath and collapsed into bed. Oh, and I spent four hours of the next day-my day off-marking too.

Image: Huffington Post

Image: Huffington Post

Now, this is not a ‘poor me’ post, but rather a ‘how the bloody hell did I let that happen?’ post. For some reason, this term has been manic and I’m finding it harder and harder to balance home and work. It was affecting the time I spent with D and Benn. I wasn’t doing anything FUN. So I’m trying to claw something back.

I’ve decided to try and leave work at work when I can. I’m making sure that I spend time with D doing fun things: colouring, baking, reading- the usual stuff. I guess that I don’t want him, when he’s grown up, to say I never spent time with him when he was little. My mum was a stay-at-home-mum and I always knew she’d be at home. It’s not really an option for me, but I do want to give D quality time.

I’ve also asked Benn that we arrange something where we go out without D. For the first time ever, I’ve persuaded him to come to my work’s Christmas do on the 19th (oh, IMAGINE THE HILARITY when I found out the other day that my dentist’s office have their Christmas party at the same place on the same day and at the same time as ours. I did say that I was only joking when I’d said that I spent so much time at their office that I was part of the team.) We’e booked tickets to a few comedy gigs in the next few months and we’re lucky enough to have people around us who appear to like D enough to take him off our hands for a couple of hours.

We live in a world of 24 hour communication, where we expect to have whatever we want at the click of a button- but it seems that we’re overloading ourselves, scared of missing out, judging ourselves against work and other people. It’s really tiring, isn’t it? So now I’m going to attempt to take a bit of my own time back- I’m getting better at saying no to some things; trying to get more sleep and taking care of myself better; and carving time out for myself where I can. That’s not asking for too much… is it?

What happens when you re-read Point Horror as a grown up?

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Recently, one of my Year 9 students brought a Point Horror book to my lesson as her reading book. It’s safe to say I alarmed her with my excited exclamations of ‘I LOVED POINT HORROR WHEN I WAS YOUR AGE!’ (I always have to resist adding ‘When I were a lad, I walked fifteen miles to school in the snow wi’ nowt but sackcloth on me feet and a jacket tatie in me pocket for warmth and dinner…’) Anyway, somewhat bemused, the student told me that they’d been her mum’s and that she’d recently been given the complete series. After enduring me wittering on for another couple of minutes about the merits of R.L Stine, the poor student eventually asked if I would like to borrow some. And so, she lent me the three titles above- all that I remember reading.

When I was about twelve, Point Horror was a serious pre-occupation of mine. I defy you to find many women who were young teenagers in the late 90s who hadn’t read at least one of the stories from the series, or Stine’s off-shoot series Goosebumps. They were wildly popular and widely swapped amongst my peers, so I was surprised to learn that they’ve been out-of-print for quite a while (although it appears that the series is being revamped and relaunched for modern teenagers.) After all, these were cheap paperbacks that offered all the idealised parts of the American teenage life with added gore and murder.

Reading them as an adult, there was still the element of surprise- although this ended much sooner than it would have done when I read the books eighteen years ago. All three books were around the 160 page mark and dealt with the Hitchcockian (The Window tells the story of a girl stranded in her bedroom after she breaks her ankle on a skiing trip and who witnesses a murder); the unnerving (The Dead Game is a tale of revenge gone wrong); and the supernatural (Freeze Tag is about teenage love, lust, jealousy and, er, the ability to freeze your love rival.)

I can see why twelve year old me would have loved these stories. It was the older teenage life of girls who were a bit like Buffy, a bit like the kids in programmes I liked such as Saved By The Bell- the younger version of the American Dream, sort of. Of course, being a teenager didn’t turn out like it did on TV or the books (even without murder by freezing!)

As a grown up, it was easier to spot the red herrings and twists but that doesn’t make them any less enjoyable. If anything, I felt happily nostalgic as I devoured them. They reminded me of library visits, summer holiday reading and the escape reading offered me during periods of bleakness. I’ll be keeping my eyes open for more on my charity shop jaunts.

Have you got any memories of Point Horror novels?

I don’t know if it’s because I’m house-proud or deluded. Probably both.

The new house is a roaring success; D has been giving cute (if repetitive) tours, Bronte has a catflap and very little in the way of feline competition, Benn has the neutral decor (Fifty Shades of Beige) he’s always dreamed of and I have a room I can hide in when my Location, Location, Location rage hits peak boiling point (I’m actually in there now, scheduling this.)

Anyway. The house is lovely and we’re settling in well. We’re settling in so well, in fact, that I’ve done something a bit daft. Not only have I planned to host a children’s party the day before Halloween for D’s birthday, but I’ve also repeatedly said that we’re even doing Christmas this year. No, I haven’t been transformed by the fairy godmother of social activities. I actually WANT to see people on a regular basis. We’ve had visitors on most of the days we’ve not been at work- and I’ve liked it.

Image: Telegraph

The face sensible me pulled when I realised I’d declared we’d ‘do’ socialising. Image: Telegraph

I’d always planned that D would have his birthday party here, as we have much more room now. Also, I realised that over the summer holidays, he’d spent most of his time with adults. As I don’t want him to grow up to be totally weird, I’m orchestrating as many playdates (ugh) as I can for him. Plus I’ll have an excuse to eat as many party sausage rolls as I want.

The fact that I’ve planned major social events AND been actively inviting people into my house is a major turnaround for me. I like keeping my house pretty separate from everything else, but this house is so warm and welcoming, it makes sense to use its space to see friends. However, I’m sure that this too will pass and before long I’m realising I’m a) actually terribly anti-social; b) skint; c) I’m a terrible hostess once we’ve established you like tea and are in awe of the fact I have a whole tea cupboard.

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Also- when do I start making Christmas cake?!